Introduction

In a world with many different views and religions, it can be hard to claim to have the truth. It is popular to claim that all religions are true and that they all lead to God, each one getting to God in a different way. If all religions aren’t true, how can we know which religion is true and which ones are false? A strong case can be made for the truth of Christianity if we can answer one question. Did Jesus rise from the dead? In this series, I will argue that the most reasonable explanation based on the historical evidence is that Jesus rose from the dead.

How does the resurrection of Jesus help us understand what religion is true? The Apostle Paul states, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”[1] According to this verse, the truth of Christianity lives or dies on the truth of the resurrection. If Jesus rose from the dead, then the message we preach is true and it is reasonable to be a Christian. If Jesus did not rise from the dead then we should leave Christianity and be on a search to figure out which religion, if any, is true. So, let’s take a look at five pieces of historical evidence to see if Jesus really did rise from the dead.

  1. Jesus was crucified.
  2. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  3. Jesus was buried and the tomb was found empty.
  4. The disciples began to claim that they had experienced the risen Jesus.
  5. The disciples suffered for their testimony and some of them were killed.

The Crucifixion

Looking at the historical evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus is the first important factor. If Jesus was never crucified then he didn’t rise from the dead three days later. The first places we can look to know if Jesus was crucified are the four Gospels. “That Jesus was executed by crucifixion is recorded in all four Gospels.”[2] This is important because it wasn’t only mentioned by one person. The Gospels are four independent sources stating that Jesus was killed by Roman Crucifixion.

Along with the four Gospels, we have mention of Jesus’ crucifixion by different writers in the first and second century. In A.D. 109, Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote, “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”[3] The people at that time would have known that the extreme penalty was crucifixion. We should notice here that Tacitus is making reference to the crucifixion of Jesus as a side note. He isn’t writing this in order to prove that Jesus was crucified, but instead mentions it causally.

There is also mention of Jesus’ crucifixion by the Jewish historian, Josephus. He wrote, “When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him.”[4] This is important coming from a source outside the Christian community. Josephus would have no reason to make this up. It is because of multiple attestations that John Dominic Crossan, a skeptic wrote, “I take it absolutely for granted that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Security about the fact of the crucifixion derives not only from the unlikelihood that Christians would have invented it but also from the existence of two early and independent non-Christian witnesses to it, a Jewish one from 93-94 C.E. and a Roman one from the 110s or 120s C.E.”[5] The testimony from Josephus and Tacitus, along with the Christian sources, was enough to convince Crossan that the crucifixion of Jesus was a historical fact.

This is the first step in looking at the resurrection of Jesus. We can know that the crucifixion of Jesus was a historical event. Next week we will determine if Jesus actually died by crucifixion or if he was taken off the cross before death.

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:14. ESV

[2] Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregal Publications, 2004), 49.

[3] Tacitus, The Annals, written 109 A.C.E., Book 15: http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.11.xv.html

[4] Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Book 18: http://www.loebclassics.com/view/josephus-jewish_antiquities/1930/pb_LCL433.51.xml?rskey=7CYSLX&result=5&mainRsKey=cEJsHC

[5] John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1996), 372.

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